Archive for September, 2013

Peak: The Rescuers (2011)

Peak the rescuers

Sanpo Shimazaki is a volunteer rescue worker for the Nagano Prefecture Rescue Unit who knows the Northern Alps of Japan like the back of his hand. He has travelled extensively around the world just to climb mountains. He has no fixed abode preferring to camp on the mountains he calls home. Even though he takes part in many rescues, he never blames the person(s) involved. Kumi Shiina is a young female rookie that’s joining the rescue unit and following in her father’s footsteps. As the only woman in the team she struggles to keep up with the rest of the men so Sanpo takes her under his wing. Her first rescue on the mountains results in a man dying on her back (he had fallen down a cliff-face and seriously injured his head) as she attempted to take him down which affects her badly. She is amazed at why Sanpo is always so cheerful after a rescue whether it has been a successful one or somebody has died. It is only after a work colleague Masato explains that Sanpo had to carry his best friend on his back for 2 days after he died on a mountaineering expedition. It was the first and last time he cried on the mountains he explains to her. Nevertheless Kumi feels like she isn’t accepted by her peers and whilst trekking in the mountains she falls and has to be rescued herself.  She gets a chance though to prove herself to her work colleagues during a multiple rescue operation during a nasty snowstorm where there’s a threat of avalanches. She is given the task of rescuing a father and daughter (a pre wedding trip) who have been caught out in the hazardous conditions with the help of a helicopter. Although they manage to get the daughter Yuki winched up to safety on the helicopter, the conditions are so bad when Kumi is on her way back down to collect the father that the helicopter is forced to turn back. Rather than leaving the father on his own, Kumi cuts the rope on the winch and falls down into a deep crevasse taking the father Ichiro with her. Although the rescue team is desperate to get back to her, the boss tells them he does not want any fatalities in the terrible conditions. The only person who does venture out is Sanpo but will he get to Kumi and the father in time?

As I live close to the beautiful mountains of Snowdonia in North Wales, you get to hear many tales from the local mountain rescue service about the people they have been called out to rescue. Many of the people go out ill equipped on the mountains and find themselves either injuring themselves by slipping or twisting their ankles or find they get lost somewhere unfamiliar. The majority of the rescues could be prevented if these people respected the mountains and took proper precautions and gear. It’s a tough job for the rescue people and I admire them for going out in all conditions to save lives. I enjoy going up the mountains myself even when I’m in Japan whether it be the touristy friendly Mt Takai which is close to Tokyo or getting lost trying to find the path to Mt Mitake. When I first read the plot for this movie I had an inkling that I would enjoy it and that proved to be the case. The movie is based on a manga that’s been running since 2003. It’s an inspiring movie with the plot basically about the team conquering adversity in trying to rescue people on the mountains and about their dedication to the cause. Another part of the story is about Kumi trying to gain some confidence and fitting in with the team. Whilst it does feature rescues that go well, it also shows the flip side with tragedy. A perfect example of this is of a young boy waiting for his father to come back down the mountain but finding out he broke his leg and eventually died whilst being rescued by Sanpo. He takes up the role of being the young boy’s big brother afterwards. The first thing that you’ll notice about this movie is the incredible cinematography. It’s hard not to have your breath taken away by the snowy mountain shots of the Northern Alps. Even though nearly all the clichés you’d expect to find in this kind of movie is thrown at the viewer, it’s hard not to get yourself emotionally attached to the team and the people they rescue. Some of the rescues shown are thrilling stuff and there is a life and death decision for Kumi to make when Ichiro’s foot is trapped under a huge block of ice after they have fallen into a crevasse. She tries to break the ice to free his foot but fails so she decides that the only way for him to survive is to cut it off with an ice axe. This gruesome act isn’t shown although I think it should have. The director sets up a brilliant and tense finale which ends with the feel good factor.

Peak the rescuers screenshot

The cast overall is excellent. The charismatic Shun Oguri plays a likeable character in Sanpo Shimazaki with his cheery attitude to life and his vow that he never abandons anybody on the peaks which contradicts to what his boss Masato preaches that if it’s too dangerous to attempt a rescue in difficult conditions the unit will not go out as he doesn’t want to lose any of his team. I also like the fact that Sanpo never points the finger at anybody that gets into trouble on the mountains. What he wants more than anything is for the person rescued to return and enjoy the mountains once they’ve recovered from their injuries. In fact he even runs up and embraces a man he sees on the mountain in the final scene of the movie (Sanpo rescued him in the opening scene from a crevasse by carrying him back up to the surface on his back). As for Masami Nagasawa who plays Kumi, I’ve got to ask the question as to why she would want to become a rescue worker as she’s not very good in the mountains and complains about everything even shouting at some of the people who are being rescued. Not a very professional manner to show to the people they’re trying to rescue. Perhaps Kumi is only doing it in honour of her father who was a mountain rescue worker himself and died on the job. I got the feeling that Kumi was trying too hard to fit into the team, like she felt that unless she proved herself to them how good she was they would never accept her as one of their own. Shun Oguri and Masami Nagasawa share some good chemistry and it helps that they’ve worked together before.

All in all I enjoyed this movie very much. It will give you a new found respect for mountain rescue personnel who do a hard job in very trying circumstances. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Another (2012)


It is the spring of 1998 and 15 year old Koichi Sakakibara has been forced to come to live with his aunt Reiko Mikami in a mountainous region as his father is going abroad to work. Soon after moving with his aunt he suffers from a pneumothorax attack and has to go to Yumigaoka Hospital for treatment. Whilst there and going into a lift he encounters a girl the same age as himself wearing a school uniform and a white eyepatch. He thinks nothing about this girl until he goes to his new class at Yomiyama North Middle School and there sitting by her desk right at the back is the same girl. She is called Mei Misaki but what he finds unusual is that everybody in his class including the teachers ignores her like she isn’t there. Koichi tries to talk to Mei but finds out from his other classmates that in doing so he has broken a rule and that people will die because of what he’s done. Every year one student in the class is made non-existent. Koichi doesn’t like this rule one bit. By talking more to Mei he finds out that his class (3-3) is cursed and stems from an incident that happened in 1972 when a female student Misaki Fujioka died halfway through a school year but still showed up in the class graduation photograph. Mei also reveals that she has a glass eye hidden under her patch and that she can see the colour of death with it. Several of class 3-3 start getting killed mysteriously. To help escape from what’s taking place at the school, they are taken on a trip to a remote place. The discovery of an old cassette tape by Koichi holds the key to ending the curse but will he be able to survive long enough for this to happen?

I don’t know why but I was expecting this to be yet another dull J-horror which wouldn’t offer anything new to myself as I hadn’t read anything about the plot. I suppose it was seeing Ai Hashimoto on the poster wearing an eyepatch that caught my attention and made me want to watch this movie. It reunites her with Kento Yamazaki once more with both having played the leads in the fabulous movie Control Tower. This is an intriguing and thrilling supernatural mystery/horror movie set in a high school based on a novel and an anime series with a plot that grabbed me from the start. Thankfully this isn’t the type of movie which is happy to just throw cheap scares at the viewer, director Takeshi Furusawa opts instead to weave a story that steadily builds up dread and tension.

Another screenshot

Although there are several nasty deaths in the movie (a beheading and a female student impaled on an umbrella), the story is more concerned about what’s behind the curse of class 3-3 rather than giving us an all-out gory horror. This aspect certainly made it more interesting for myself. A cassette tape that’s found by Koichi hidden under a cupboard heralds more clues to unlocking what’s going on at the school. The mystery surrounding Mei is also great as the viewer doesn’t know if she’s real or simply a ghost. It also gives us some background on the social interactions that take place in Japanese high schools. Being a newcomer to a school, most people would try and keep on the good side of their peers but Koichi prefers to go against the grain right from the bat. This of course doesn’t go down well and soon enough Koichi decides to join Mei in being the 2nd non-existent person in the class. It makes you wonder how you would feel being a non-entity by your classmates. I certainly wouldn’t like it!

Because this is a low budget movie and despite the great storyline, there is one aspect of the production which brings the whole movie a little bit down and that’s in the sloppy CG effects. It’s a shame about this but it shouldn’t spoil what is a really good movie for the majority of viewers. Ai Hashimoto and Kento Yamazaki are fine in their roles but I did feel that Kento was the better of the two. Ai’s character Mei is probably harder to warm to due to her mysterious personality. There isn’t that much character development throughout the movie unfortunately especially for Mei Misaki who could have done with more of a background story.

Even though I may have griped about some minor issues in this movie, I still enjoyed Another very much. I can’t tell you how close it is to the anime or the novel as I haven’t seen or read them so fans of either may have differing views about this movie to mine but I liked the story very much. All I can say is just give it a whirl and see what you think.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Die Bad (2000)


Park Sung-bin is a part of a teenage gang. At a pool hall an argument breaks out between his gang and another from an art school which turns into a full scale fight. It results in him grabbing a bottle and smashing it over one boy’s head. As the boy falls to the floor, his bloodstained head hits a pool table very hard. He is dead on hitting the floor. Sung-bin is sent to jail. 7 years later he is released and a plain clothes policeman is charged with keeping an eye out for him in case he reoffends. His father isn’t proud of him due to the social stigma of having an ex-con as a member of the family. He manages to get a job though in a local garage thanks to his older brother but he starts getting visions of the boy he killed all those years ago. As he is walking home one night he sees a man being attacked by 4 thugs. Sung-bin is hesitant at first to assist as he doesn’t want to get into trouble with the law but in the end he does. The man he has saved Kim Tae-hoon is a gangster and he takes Sung-bin under his wing and back into the world of crime. As time goes by, Sung-bin is unaware that a gang of youths he’s recruited are about to be used by his boss as knife-fodder in a horrific battle and he’ll come face to face in a showdown with a police officer who he will recognise as an old friend who was involved in the fateful fight at the pool hall all those years ago.

South Koreans like their gangster movies a lot. They usually make pots of money at the box office. It makes you wonder just why they find these types of movies so fascinating. Is it something to do with the romantic image that gangsters have in the country I wonder? This is one of the better efforts from South Korea and it is stylishly directed by Ryu Sung-Wan (on his debut) who made this movie on a shoestring budget and employed friends and family in the production. The story is broken down into 4 parts:

Rumble – two school male gangs start fighting each other at a pool hall which leads to Sung-bin killing somebody.

Nightmare – this segment fast forwards 7 years on as Sung-bin is released from prison and his descent into crime after rescuing a crime boss from a beating.

Modern Man – the viewer is introduced to Suk-Hwan, an old friend of Sung-bin who is now a police officer. He is staking out Sung-bin’s boss. This segment is interspersed with Suk-Hwan talking to the camera as if he’s being interviewed.

Die Bad – Sung-bin’s teenage gang is involved in a brutal fight unaware that they are being used and two former friends in Sung-bin and Suk-Hwan face off in a showdown.

Die Bad screenshot

As per usual in Korean gangster movies, this is a gritty and very violent movie. We’re talking proper brutal stuff on display. It’s lucky that the final segment which is a short film-noir is mostly in black and white as there is a lot of bloodshed and stabbings galore during the gang fight melee that takes place. It’s the different camera techniques that the director uses which makes this stand out from other Korean gangster movies. It has a washed out and grainy look about it. I loved how Ryu Sung-Wan has managed to piece together these 4 segments into one seamless story that takes place over a decade. It’s a well thought out story full of energy and great performances from the cast and what may surprise you is no guns are used at all. When you think of gangsters you think of people with guns but not in this movie. Lead pipes and knives seem to be the favoured weapons in this movie. The fights are realistic. They might not be pretty to watch but that’s how fights are in real life. The director makes it clear to not glorify the violence that’s seen during the movie. It’s a dark story highlighting the grimier side of Seoul and with characters that don’t have many options in life but follow a life of crime.

Die Bad provides a refreshing new look on the gangster genre. It’s a great showcase for highlighting the innovative ways that the director has used to convey the story.  Ryu Sung-Wan would go on to direct such great movies as Arahan, City of Violence and Crying First (all 3 are well worth watching btw).  This movie was a fantastic debut from a promising director at the time.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Kabei: Our Mother (2008)

Kabei Our Mother dvd

Set in early 1940’s Tokyo, the close knit Nogami family’ (father Shigeru, mother Kayo and two daughters Teryu/Hatsuko) lives are turned upside down when Shigeru is arrested and thrown into prison without trail for ‘thought crimes’ (not agreeing to the warmongering by Japan and accused of being a communist). He’s denied access to his family until he agrees to change his stance and due to the awful conditions at the prison his health starts to suffer. Kabei though has to continue looking after her daughters which isn’t easy. Luckily though, one of Shigeru’s former students Yamazaki hears of his plight and decides to help out the family. Even Shigeru’s sister, an art student from Hiroshima by the name of Hisako comes to share Kabei’s burden. They try their best to persuade the authorities to release Shigeru but without any luck. Nevertheless they will not give up. As Japan enters the war against America and Britain, the situation becomes even worse.  Then Kabei’s worst fears come true………….

Based on a true story, this is a moving tale about a mother struggling to raise her family during wartime with her husband in prison and facing prejudice by her neighbours and her father about Shigeru’s arrest. The title of the movie Kabei refers to the affectionate nickname given by the rest of the family to Kayo. The rest of the family also have their own nickname: Tobei (Shigeru), Terubei (Teryu) and Hatsubei (Hatsuko).  As you can imagine in a movie which depicts the hardship of a single mother, it is a bit of tearjerker especially in the final 30 mins when all manner of tragedies befall Kayo and the family. It is also a good historical drama on what was happening in Japan during the early 40’s and the country’s ultimate path to war in the Pacific with the Allies. Any Japanese citizen not agreeing to the country’s nationalistic stance was labelled a traitor.


The storyline does criticise Japan’s wartime policies which is a change as most of the Japanese war movies released during the past decade has been seen as glorifying the period and some of the victories the country achieved. However this movie doesn’t concern itself with any battles, it’s just a story of a family coping with life during wartime. What is particularly scary about the nationalistic stance during the war as seen in this movie is that it doesn’t seem to be the soldiers that you would have to be worried about. Everybody even your local neighbours would report you to the local police whose job was to silence anybody not seen as supporting the war effort. Something silly like wearing nice clothes or lipstick would be seen as being wrong in some people’s eyes.

Director Yamada Yoji makes an effort for this movie not to be too overly melodramatic and there are some humorous moments mostly provided by the character of Yamasaki and Kayo’s brother who is the black sheep of the family. You do start to become attached to Kayo and her family. You’ll sympathise and become angry at the injustice placed upon them and there is no doubt that as the movie enters the final third there’ll be plenty of tears shed by the viewer as several emotional blows are rained down on Kayo.  It’s heartbreaking to watch Shigeru’s health situation gradually get worse over time and his haggard condition even makes Yamasaki break down in tears during one prison visit. Some critics have commented that this movie is similar in style to Yasujiro Ozu’s works.  I’m not sure if the director made a conscious effort on his behalf to do that or not?

The acting by the whole cast is incredible. Sayuri Yoshinaga is fantastic as Kabei, a mother doing her best to hold her family together. What’s remarkable is how she refuses to portray any anger to the authorities such as a scene in the police station when they refuse any visits to her husband as she knows it’s a battle she will ultimately lose. It’s best for her to swallow her pride, maintain her composure and quietly go about her business in a dignified way. The same goes with tolerating her neighbours with some thinking that Japan will rule the world as their alliance with Germany is just a ruse and they will betray them in the end before conquering Europe. Equally as good is the always reliable Tadanobu Asano in an unusual role for him as the bumbling Yamasaki who as well as being a helping hand to Kayo, he becomes a sort of surrogate father to the children with one scene showing him taking the family to the beach and having fun in the sea with the two daughters until he starts drowning and Kayo dives into the water to rescue him! However, his life with the Nogami family comes to a halt after he is called up to fight in the war. He always believed he wouldn’t be called up as he is deaf in one ear. His fate during the war is not a happy one nor is what happens to Hisako who is called back suddenly home to Hiroshima to look after her poorly mother and we all know what took place there.

Overall, Kabei – Our Mother is an excellent touching drama about one woman’s struggle during difficult times. The story, excellent directing by Yoji Yamada and superb acting by all the cast involved helped make this one of the best Japanese movies of 2008. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Occult (2009)

Occult 2009

Filmmaker Koji Shiraishi is making a documentary about a violent incident that took place at a picturesque beauty spot overlooking the sea a couple of years previously. A man stabbed several people to death with a knife except for one man Eno who was badly injured. The killer then jumped off a cliff and his body was never found.  The incident was captured on a video camera. Upon reviewing the tape of the attack, Shiraishi and his crew see a strange dark object in the sky. He decides to revisit several witnesses and the survivor of the knife attack to get their views on what they saw on that fateful day. Eno who is unemployed tells Shiraishi that his life changed on the day of the attack. The killer carved a set of mysterious symbols on his back and told him ‘your turn next’. He also claims to see ‘miracles’ regularly – UFO’s in the sky, objects moving on their own etc and a voice in his head that tells him something that he claims he doesn’t understand. Eno believes though that the massacre that took place was a ceremony of some kind. It’s decided to give a video camera to Eno so that he can film any ‘miracles’ that happen. Indeed he does capture several strange events and Shiraishi begins to investigate what the symbols on Eno’s back mean. It’s discovered that the killer had the same set of symbols on his body since birth. As the investigation continues, he is able to find out that Eno has a ceremony that he wants to perform and that Shiraishi himself has a connection to these symbols. What plans does Eno have for his ceremony and why is Shiraishi being dragged into his plans?

I had high hopes for this movie having enjoyed some of Koji Shiraishi’s other work (Noroi and Carved) . His reputation took a bit of a battering following Grotesque, a torture porn horror which was very extreme and disgusting. We are back to familiar territory for Shiraishi with this movie – yes, it’s another mockumentary similar in style to Noroi. The director has a reputation for appearing in his own movies and he takes a central role in this story. I’m a sucker for paranormal stories when they are done properly and this story had me hooked from the beginning as it is filled with elements of Japanese mythology.  It gets even more intriguing once the tale starts concentrating on Eno. The viewer is led to believe that perhaps Eno isn’t telling Shiraishi everything he knows about his encounter with the killer, the significance of the symbols on his back and what exactly are his secret plans? I did like how the story unravelled and with each clue being found leading the viewer to know more about Eno.

Occult 2009 shot

As the mystery deepens there’s a trip to a sacred mountain and even a cameo appearance by another film director in Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Eventually Eno confesses to Shirashi about the mission he’s been given by God, what he intends to do about his own ceremony and Shiraishi himself even takes part in the ceremony preparations. It leads up to a shocking climax which I won’t spoil but the tension really builds up to the countdown of Eno’s planned ceremony. I kept thinking to myself will this ceremony actually go ahead or not and there are ominous signs in the sky. It’s nail-biting stuff that’s for sure.

The acting by the cast is great especially by the man playing Eno. The jarring industrial music used is rather unsettling and adds to the creepiness of the movie. Although the pace of the movie is rather slow at first it does pick up considerably.  If there’s one aspect of the movie which suffers badly it’s in the special effects department. It is truly abysmal and looks very cheap. One scene such as when a man runs across a road and is knocked over by a car really hits home how bad the effects look. The odd shapes that move in the sky also look dreadful. Surely Shiraishi could have come up with something better.

Overall, this movie really delivers on all counts be it the story, characters and tons of suspense. It’s just a shame the special effects was so useless or I would have given it a higher rating. Still, if you enjoyed Noroi you will definitely like this movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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JC is the leader of a band of mercenaries who are given the task by a foreign antiques dealer of finding the 12 Chinese bronze statue heads that represent the zodiac and were stolen from the Summer Palace in the 1860’s during the Second Opium War. For each head they find they’ll be given 1 million euros and for finding the very special dragon head an extra zero will be added to the total. The first destination for the team is in Paris, France where they acquire the help of Coco, a relics expert and Katherine, a French heiress who is desperate to know the fate of her long lost grandfather. They follow some clues to a tropical island where they come face to face with some other treasure hunters who are after the same bronze statues.

Billed as the last Jackie Chan action movie (which is false actually as he’s working on a new Police Story movie but maybe they mean his last jet-setting global action movie?), this is supposed to be the 3rd in the Armour Of God series. I’m not sure if that’s true or not as I don’t think Jackie portrays the Asian Hawk in the story. Jackie is getting on a bit now (he is 58 after all) and he cannot continue in these fast paced action movies so the plan was for this to be his swansong and to go out with a bang. Many of his long-time fans will be pleased to see him returning to the genre he is best known for in the 80’s and 90’s with his trademark comedy and innovative fight/action scenes. There’s a brilliant opening sequence as Jackie’s character JC in his latest mercenary mission escapes from some Russians by donning a  rollerblading suit. It’s exciting stuff and it does take your breath away though I didn’t like the special effects used. I was sure that this excellent start would set the tone for the rest of the movie but unfortunately it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is better than a lot of Jackie’s recent efforts and the action scenes are great but somehow I felt short changed at the end. It did go on for far too long with the story being stretched. A good 20 mins should have been cut. With Jackie in charge of this production, his nationalistic views comes through very strongly (something which he is known for lately) in which he criticises foreign nations for stealing China’s treasures.  It is seen as being preachy and the message is driven home to the viewer on a regular basis throughout the movie. Fair enough if Jackie is patriotic of his country but leave the foreign bashing out of your movies. The viewer could do without it.

chinese zodiac shot

The plot of the movie is somewhat thin and the dialogue is stupid but then again a lot of Jackie’s movies have been like that and besides I don’t think his fans will really care about that. They want to see some action and that’s what they get in spades with some added CGI mixed in. As well as the rollerblading sequence, there’s a cool skydiving stunt near the end which reminded me of the pre-credits scene in 007’s Moonraker. It involves JC diving from a plane after the villain who drops the dragon head statue where it is seen plummeting towards an erupting volcano with JC in hot pursuit. Viewers can look forward to seeing Jackie’s trademark fight choreography in a warehouse which sees the use of a sofa plus an amusing chase in a maze with Jackie on the run from several Doberman Pinchers. There’s a large cast for this movie but it’s Jackie’s character that mostly takes centre stage. The supporting characters are made to look weak. The Westerners (Oliver Platt/Laura Weissbecker) in this movie again fall flat on their faces in the acting department. When will Asian studios employ some decent Western talent in their movies? The characters they portray come across as rather annoying especially Laura Weissbecker playing Katherine who repeats the “speak in English please” line several times. Perhaps in a nod to the Pirates Of The Caribbean, there’s a bunch of smugglers who are also after the bronze head statues with one looking very much like Captain Jack Sparrow which is very appropriate seeing as the segment of the movie is set on an old pirate ship which crashed into a desert island during a storm many years ago. We all know that most of Jackie’s movies like to have their share of comedy but the humour felt a bit tired here.

Try as he might to replicate his glory days in this movie, I don’t think he comes close to his best stuff.  It’s an enjoyable movie to watch though. Younger viewers will no doubt love this movie but those of us who have grown up watching the man will be slightly disappointed. I hope that Jackie can prove me wrong and there’s one more excellent movie up his sleeve – maybe the next Police Story story will be that one?

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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POV A Cursed Film

Mirai Shida is a teen actress that holds her own online TV show which is streamed for smartphones. Her guest for one show is another teen actress – Haruna Kawaguchi. In the show that is being filmed, the topic for conversation between the two is home videos sent in to them and the claims made that there are ghosts on them. They are made to watch several videos. Mirai isn’t happy about the supernatural theme but Haruna is up for it. The videos they watch look familiar to Haruna and she deduces that they are places in her old middle school. She tells Mirai that there were rumours of ghosts at the school and that she had tried to hunt down the ghosts as she states she’s a self-professed ghost hunter. When the two girls take a look at the footage on the videos (a toilet, showers, window) again it looks like some things have changed. In the girls toilets a cubicle door was seen to open but on viewing that footage for the 2nd time there is now a hand on the open door, the showers turn themselves on and a face is seen on a window. A ghost even shows up in what they have filmed in the studio. There is a possibility that there’s a curse associated with the videos and a psychic is called in by the show’s production team. She tells the girls that the only way to lift the curse is to visit the source of the hauntings – Haruna’s middle school.  The girls, their manager and a couple of the production crew head out to the school but when they arrive they find out the psychic isn’t coming. Nevertheless they meet one of Haruna’s old teachers and enter the school. What will happen to the girls in the school? Will they get down to the bottom of the ghostly footage and are their lives in any danger?

I would have liked to say that this B-movie gives J-horror fans something new, original and interesting to watch but unfortunately it doesn’t…….not initially anyway! This is one of those ‘found footage’ movies much like The Blair Witch Project. The two main actresses are playing themselves. I haven’t heard about Haruna Kawaguchi before but I have seen Mirai Shida in one or two movies. The majority of the movie doesn’t offer anything the viewer hasn’t seen before – cheap scares, screaming around darkened corridors, shaky camerawork, night vision, creaking doors, blinking lights etc etc. All sorts of chaos takes place at the school where the girls are seen trying to escape but find the door to the outside all locked. Same old same old I hear you say but after some credits come up onscreen the story changes location to a cinema where some movie execs and some sponsors are watching the footage the viewer has just seen. So this is now a movie within a movie! The execs like what they see and are sure it’s going to be a hit with the punters. However the girls aren’t happy but they are invited to sit down for a private screening and watch the entire adventure they’ve been on and their reactions will be filmed by a small camcorder plonked right in front of their seats.  So the movie starts to get shown and yet again the footage that’s played has changed from the last time and Haruna by watching the movie has cursed herself once more because some ghosts start appearing in the cinema with the two girls. That’s when they decide the only way to end this is to go to the projector room and physically stop the movie. Do they succeed? We never know as the real credits of the movie appear as the plug for the projector is about to be pulled.

POV A Cursed Film screenshot

This low budgeter is far from being a great J-horror but it has its moments and the two leads are charming enough. I can’t say they do a good acting job though. It’s hard for J-horror fans to get excited these days when all you get to see is the same old plot rehashed over and over albeit with some small cosmetic changes. Personally I didn’t find this movie to be that frightening or even suspenseful. It’s not a total failure, I’ve seen far worse J-horrors than this one. There are 3 acts in the movie: the first is set in the studio, the second takes up the bulk of the movie and is set at Haruna’s old school but it’s the third act at the cinema which proves more interesting than the rest. Director Norio Tsuruta (of Ringu 0 fame) tries to be different and creative when you think the movie is about to end with the first set of credits and the story continues afterwards. It could have been better so I thought it was a bit of a missed opportunity. Be prepared to witness the usual clichés you see in these kind of movies. The story I didn’t think was compelling enough. If it wasn’t for the third act, I would have rated this movie a little less.

Unless you’re really bored and have nothing better to watch, this movie is good enough to waste 90 mins. Just don’t expect anything special out of it.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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War Of The Arrows (2011)

war of the arrows-dvd

A master archer and his young family are attacked at night in their compound by soldiers and dogs. Labelled a traitor by his King, the man orders his young son Nam-Yi to escape with his little sister Jae-in and find shelter with his friend Kim Min-soon up in the mountains. The 2 siblings witness their father being murdered in front of their eyes. 13 years pass and Nam-Yi has become an expert archer and hunter but he’s not happy at being seen as a traitor’s son. Kim Min-soon’s son Seo-Goon has plans to marry Jae-in. Nam-Yi who is very protective of Jae-in isn’t happy about this proposal and leaves his adopted home. On the day of the wedding, the Manchu army led by Prince Dorgon disrupts the ceremony and takes both Seo-Goon and Jae-in as slaves along with some of the guests. Nam-Yi gets to hear about this and sets out to rescue his sister and her husband.  Hearing that they are set to be put on a ship to China by killing messengers with his red arrows, his actions comes to the attention of Jyuu Shin-Ta, the senior Manchu Commander. He orders an elite archer unit to hunt Nam-Yi down. Will Nami-Yi be able to rescue his sister or will Jyuu Shin-Ta have the final say on the matter?

This historical action movie was a huge hit in South Korea during 2011, in fact it was the 2nd highest grossing movie of the year. Several of the actors even won some awards for taking part in this production.  It’s easy to see why as it is a very good movie and it boasts many exhilarating sequences that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats. It will keep you glued to the screen from beginning to the end. It’s not your typical action movie either. Yes, there have been movies with a lone hero trying to rescue relatives before but apart from the numerous Robin Hood flicks has there been one where the battles are fought solely with bows and arrows?  It’s more or less a cat and mouse chase movie with Nam-Yi being pursued relentlessly by snipers or with him going after his sister’s kidnappers where he has to use his wits to survive against some cunning opponents. The tale is also about heroism, revenge and justice – themes that anybody can identify with so we are firmly on Nam-Yi’s side for the whole story. I don’t think there’s ever been a movie where the snipers are using bows and not guns as the weapons. The hunters use heavier arrows than Nam-Yi who with his lighter red arrows takes advantage of the wind to make them bend as they fly through the air. There’s some gore involved but that’s probably just to emphasise how deadly the bow is as a weapon. Yet even with the action going on, there’s still time for some good character development to take place. Usually action movies tend to focus more on the set pieces and forget about character development.  There is some background to the initial attack at the start of the story on the sibling’ father but I think that is only shown in the director’s cut of the movie. It is strange that when the siblings escape after their father’s murder it never shows or even mentions if anybody pursued them or not. You would have thought that somebody would have tried to track them down but it seems not so they were allowed to live in peace with their adopted family.

warofthearrows screenshot

The movie boasts excellent production values and some stunning choreography.  It looks like a Hollywood blockbuster and it’s surprising to hear that the budget for the movie was just $8 million dollars. If you’ve ever seen Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto movie, there are some similarities in this story with it. The whole movie has been skilfully directed by Kim Han-Min and the camerawork captures the action very well.  He never lets the story sag for one second and it builds up to a tremendous finale. The landscape is used brilliantly for some sequences such as the scene when Nam-Yi is forced to jump over a gorge and has to try and find a way to escape under a hail of arrows. Some viewers might think that a movie which deals with people fighting with bows and arrows could be rather boring but believe me it isn’t. I found the movie to be tense and exciting.  This is one of the finest Asian action movies of the last couple of years you’ll see.  I won’t hesitate in telling that the action sequences will blow you away. It’s non-stop excitement all the way. The cast is superb all round with Park Hae-il and Ryoo Seung-ryong standing out as Nam-Yi and Jyuu Shin-Ta.

War Of The Arrows is an excellent movie with a solid story, it has a fantastic cast with some fast and furious action sequences. It’s a movie that definitely should not be missed by Asian or action movie fans. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Officer Lee is a dedicated cop who one night in a parking lot decides to stop a man in his car who seems to be trying to leave in a hurry and who hasn’t put his seatbelt on. After being issued a ticket, Lee is about to send the man away when he notices that one of the car’s taillights isn’t working.  Lee offers to repair the broken light so the driver goes looking for a screwdriver inside his car. It is then that Lee spots some blood coming from the car’s boot. A woman’s body is discovered in the boot and the driver whips out his gun and shoots Lee several times. Just as the fatal shot is about to be delivered the corpse in the boot sits up and this is enough for the driver to be distracted and for Lee to shoot him in the head.  After his recovery, Lee is transferred to the Miscellaneous Affairs Department for not changing his statement that he saw a dead corpse sitting up. This rather obscure department investigates paranormal activities and is headed by Inspector Wong and his wheelchair bound assistant. The department’s job is track and hunt down ghosts using conventional weapons. Wong has one rule for his department and that is “there is no such things as ghosts”. This irks Lee as he can see plenty of ghosts but the rule is there for a reason and it’s more for the general public than anybody else. They have to convince them that no such things exist. There is one particularly vicious ghost that seems to have an interest in Lee and Wong. Jumping from one body to another by possessing a human, the ghost makes their victims do things such as commit suicide or killing innocent people. Why is the ghost taunting the two cops with a trail of deaths and is it linked to a set of numbers which has been carved into Lee’s right arm when he was sent to hospital after being shot and put into a plaster cast?

This movie opens with a shocking scene showing Officer Lee gunning down a woman on a bus for no apparent reason before it steps back in time and shows the incredible turn of events of how he became a member of the Miscellaneous Affairs Department team.  If that isn’t enough to get your interest in the movie then nothing else will!! The premise of malevolent ghosts transferring from one body to another simply by touching a person just like a virus is an interesting one. The frightening thing about this aspect is the person is effectively dead once they’re infected and when the ghost has moved onto another body all that’s left is an empty shell. I can’t say I’ve seen a movie with anything like this before so I liked the fact that the director tried something different. That’s not to say he doesn’t spoil the movie by inserting some cheap scares but on the whole it’s not your usual ghost story. The creepy atmosphere adds to the mood of the movie. One such scene showing a group of schoolgirls on top of a roof holding hands with braids of their hair tied together before jumping off has obviously been inspired by Sion Sono’s Suicide Club. Once the identity of the ghost has been made known it turns into a thriller as Lee races against time to protect his pregnant wife and there’s still enough time to shove another twist to the tale which I found to be rather unexpected (I won’t spoil what that is). It definitely keeps you guessing right to the end. The majority of the movie is rather dark and serious with only a little bit of humour in it. There is one major plothole in the story and that is if these ghosts can move between hosts what can a bullet do to them? Probably nothing apart from making them look for a new body.


The director of this movie, a young Singaporean by the name of Kelvin Tong came with a bit of a chequered reputation before helming this movie. Some of his previous works weren’t universally loved as they were either bad comedies or art-house flicks (I can’t comment as I’ve never seen any of his stuff) so many movie fans weren’t expecting much out of this story. However, I think the dramatic first 20 mins was enough to hook people into the movie and make them want to discover where the storyline would take them. Both leading actors give solid performances. Ekin Cheng is particularly good as Wong, the hard drinking man in charge of the M.A.D who has seen it all over the years. You just have an inkling that something bad is going to happen when he plans to retire and go away with his ex-wife who he is still on good terms.

Overall, Rule Number One is an entertaining ride which provides a new slant on the ghost story genre. It has an interesting and exciting story and it’s directed well enough by Kelvin Tong.  Well worth taking a look.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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In Tezuka Gakuen High School, a schoolgirl by the name of Yuko Yamizaki commits suicide by throwing herself off the roof. Close by where she jumped is a script of a stage play ‘The Blue Eyed Angel’ she had written which was based on an incident at the school that happened 80 years previously in which a girl Sumiko fell in love with a German teacher Eugon Metcalfe. Their affair though was to end in tragedy. Machiko, a friend of Yuko is given the go ahead by the school principal to continue with staging the play as a tribute to Yuko. She finds out that Yuko had discovered a dark secret about the school which was connected to the play and she had put everything on a floppy disk after hacking into the school computer system. Somebody though doesn’t want the secret to be discovered as several of Machiko’s close friends who are investigating this mystery are being murdered one by one.  The police put a persistent detective on the case. What is the dark secret the school is trying to hide and will Machiko survive long enough to see the stage play be performed?

The title of this movie is a bit misleading and I’m sure it will have many viewers will be thinking this is a movie about zombies but I can assure you it’s not. Then again perhaps a zombie movie might have been more exciting than what took place in the movie! There is an explanation about the title of the movie near the climax. The movie was released during a time when J-horror was at it’s most popular with The Ring having been released the previous year. The problem was a lot of crap was churned out during this period in order to try and cash in on The Ring. Studios were just jumping on the bandwagon hoping to make a quick buck. This movie unfortunately is just a standard formulaic murder mystery set in a Catholic school. It failed to engage me with it’s plot (which is full of holes btw!) and was quite dull if I’m being honest. The beginning of the movie suggested that it could have developed into something interesting but it just kind of fizzled out into nothing by the climax. The majority of the characters are suspected of being the murderer because they are made to look suspicious through their actions and the plot tries to throw in a couple of red herrings which fails miserably. Take for example a male student newly transferred to the school. For a newbie he seems to know a lot about the killings yet it is never explained how he’s managed to find out so much though it could be because he dated Yuko. Even the explanation at the end when the murderer is caught about something to do with some paintings was rather lame. By that time though I had become well and truly bored with the whole movie. There is hardly any tension, scares or suspense. The movie meanders along at such a slow pace throwing in the occasional excitement such as Machiko seeing some black robed figures doing some shady deals in the school basement just to wake up the viewer.

School day of the dead screenshot

The acting is nothing to write home about but I suppose Kyoko Fukada who was just a rising star at the time did better than the rest as Machiko. I despair at some of the atrocious acting that Westerners give in Japanese movies and Thame Camus, an American actor who’s quite well known in Japan proved once and for all that he’s got absolutely zero talent. His performance as the teacher Mr Thornhill is plain awful. You just have to see the scene when he has a hissy fit in front of some students when his character discovers paintings of his schoolgirl lover all over a room. It’s embarrassing to watch.

School Day Of The Dead has nothing to really recommend it except if you’re a fan of Kyoko Fukada and want to see her early movies otherwise I wouldn’t bother with it. There are far better mystery/horror movies set in a Japanese high school elsewhere.

Sorry but I could only find a German trailer.

Sadako’s Rating: 2 stars out of 5

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